Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a White House Christmas

Whether its by an expedition through the woods to chop down a spruce, or a last-minute run to the trailer in the parking lot; the Christmas tree, no matter how it's brought home has become an American tradition. And like any other Americans, the family living in the big white house on Pennsylvania avenue has tradition surrounding their holiday evergreen as well.

The tradition of a placing a decorated tree in the White House began in 1889 during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison. Harrison, who gave turkeys and gloves to his employees for Christmas was the first president to have a tree.

And what began as a family gathering has become a national tradition. Through the years, the White House Christmas tree has personified the First Family, and has been an inspiration in representing both the times and tastes of the country.

In 1895, for example, Grover Cleveland's First Lady Frances Cleveland created a "technology savvy" tree, which donned electric lights (a white house first).

Thee ever-fashionable Jackie Onassis, started the tradition of Christmas tree themes in 1961 when her tree was decorated with toys from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.

Today the tradition continues as each first lady selects her own theme which is usually a sign of the times. In 2001, current First lady Laura Bush chose "Home for the Holidays" which represented the family homes of many of the past Presidents.

In 1998 Hillary Clinton themed her tree a "Winter Wonderland" and trimmed the tree with snowmen, mittens and hats.

Pictured above, the Nixon's tree represented each of the 50 states with ornaments made by disabled workers in Florida.

So, don't be afraid to go all out on your Christmas tree theme. It is after all, an American tradition.

Merry Christmas!

For more information about Christmas at the White House and to see more Christmas tree pictures, go to


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy Birthday John Jay!

John Jay, the least recognized of the three authors of the Federalist Papers, who was also elected by George Washington as our our Nation's first Supreme Court Justice, was born on this date, December 12, 1745.

To me this wouldn't be news if it were not for the coincidence of one of his more famous causes and another significant historical event which shares this same day.

Let's set the scene with The Federalist Papers.

Written under the pen-name of "Plubius" John Jay is said to have authored 4 of the 85 articles written in support of the ratification of the Constitution approved by the Continental Convention on September 17, 1787. The first of these anonymous articles appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

At the time, a federalist was someone who supported "big government", while an anti-federalist believed the power should remain with the people. John Jay, along with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison were staunch proponents of the new Constitution.

They believed a centralized government was essential to expand the United States both commercially and geographically. Only a strong national government, they argued, could effectively negotiate with foreign countries, ensure free trade between states, and create a stable currency.

Thomas Jefferson, probably the most famous anti-federalist believed that big government would take too much power away from the people, which after all was the true meaning of democracy. It was these beliefs that laid the groundwork for our two party system.

Soon, steps were being taken to make sure that John Jay and Alexander Hamilton would win this battle.

It was December 12, 1787, John Jay's 42nd birthday when Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution, 4 days after Delaware ratified the same document. Happy Birthday John Jay. I'm sure a pint or two was imbibed in celebration of Pennsylvania's ratification.

On a related note:
Despite both being selected to be in George Washington's cabinet, Hamilton and Jefferson would have to agree to disagree. Hamilton took the seat of Secretary of the Treasury setting a plan for a capitalist United States based on big government and big business. On the other hand Jefferson was chosen as Secretary of State and asked to deal with foreign powers. His first came during the French Revolution when he and Washington disagreed on how to handle the situation.